|Appalachian School of Law Shootings|
Thu, 17 Jan 2002
Minutes after he was told that he had flunked out of law school, a student went on a shooting rampage Wednesday, killing three people and wounding another three at the Appalachian School of Law.
“Pray for me,” Peter Odighizuwa reportedly told a law professor before gunfire rang out on the normally tranquil campus.
Authorities said other students wrestled Odighizuwa to the ground outside the school’s main building following the afternoon shooting, which claimed the lives of the dean, a professor and a first-year student. One of the three wounded students was from Roanoke.
Odighizuwa - described by fellow students as a loner convinced that school officials were out to get him - was being held in the Buchanan County Jail on three counts of capital murder.
Anthony Sutin, 42, who as dean of the school had allowed Odighizuwa to re-enroll after he flunked out once before, was among the victims. Also killed were professor Thomas Blackwell, 41, and Angela Denise Dales, 33, a former staffer at the school who became a student last year.
In the months before the shooting, Odighizuwa had become increasingly distraught about his trouble in school and a marriage that was also failing, students said.
“He just thought everyone was conspiring against him,” student John Harris said.
As students restrained him outside the building, Odighizuwa “kept saying, ‘I tried to get help; I tried to get help,’ ” said Mike Melkersen, a student who came upon the scene minutes after the shooting. “He said: ‘I even went to church; I tried to get help.’ “
Virginia State Police spokesman Mike Stater said that Odighizuwa, who was from Nigeria, went to professor Dale Rubin’s office about 1:15 p.m. to discuss his academic suspension, which became effective Wednesday.
After telling Rubin to pray for him, the suspect then went to the second-floor offices of Sutin and Blackwell. Both men were then shot with a .380-caliber semiautomatic pistol, Stater said, and were pronounced dead at the scene.
Odighizuwa then went downstairs to a lobby, where Dales was shot along with three other students.
Rebecca Clair Brown, 38, of Roanoke, was shot in the abdomen and arm. She was listed in fair condition after surgery at Wellmont Holston Valley Medical Center in Kingsport, Tenn.
Martha Madeline Short, 37, of Grundy, was shot in the throat and was listed in fair condition at the Kingsport hospital.
Stacey Bean, 22, of Berea, Ky., was shot in the chest. She was listed in fair condition after surgery at Wellmont Bristol Regional Medical Center.
Dales, who was shot in the neck, was taken to Buchanan General Hospital in a hearse because it was the only vehicle at the scene that had a gurney, according to Dr. Jack Briggs, who has a family practice less than a mile from the school and was one of the first rescue workers on the scene.
Briggs said Dales died in the emergency room. “Everybody pitched in and tried to save these girls’ lives,” he said.
Minutes after the shooting, Odighizuwa walked out of the school and put his gun on the ground before he was confronted by passers-by. Two eight-shot magazines - both empty - were recovered by police.
After Odighizuwa was overpowered by students, police took him to the Buchanan County Jail.
Gov. Mark Warner, who previously served on the school’s board of trustees, said “We’ve experienced a great tragedy today. We deplore this senseless act of violence.”
The school will be closed for the rest of the week.
Zeke Jackson, president of the school’s black student association, said Odighizuwa was one of about 20 black students at the school.
Race was not the cause of Odighizuwa’s apparent resentment, Jackson said. But for some reason, the 42-year-old - known on campus as “Peter O” - became convinced that both faculty and students were behind his failure in the classroom, Jackson said.
“That was his prime motive: to get back at ASL,” Jackson said. “He used to say that people were messing with him, bothering him, trying to aggravate him.”
Odighizuwa, who often confided in Jackson about his problems, never made any direct threats that he would resort to violence, Jackson said. But whenever they tried to talk in detail about his problems, Odighizuwa became defensive, he said.
Jackson said that when Odighizuwa flunked out of school the first time in 2000, he never told his wife. He would continue to come to the campus, hanging out in the library but mostly keeping to himself.
Odighizuwa was allowed to re-enroll last fall - a decision that Sutin had a hand in, Jackson said.
“Dean Sutin was a wonderful guy,” Jackson said. “Dean Sutin didn’t have to give him another chance, but he did.”
Alex Vanburen, a second-year student who had several classes with Odighizuwa, said he “was a pretty isolated guy. He didn’t have a lot of friends.”
Some time last fall, Odighizuwa stood up in class and began to talk about how he could not afford groceries for his wife and children, Vanburen said. After that, students took up a collection for Odighizuwa and left the cash in his mailbox.
Odighizuwa never acknowledged receiving the money, he said.
Odighizuwa’s wife left him last September, Jackson said. She later returned long enough to claim their four small children, ages 3 to 9, and moved to a nearby community, he said. Since then, Odighizuwa had become increasingly despondent, he said.
“He wasn’t a good accepter of rejection,” Jackson said. “With his wife leaving him and people looking down on him at the law school, he didn’t handle it very well.”
About 9 a.m. Wednesday, Jackson and his friend Sallie Lawson came across Odighizuwa at the school’s library, sitting off to himself and reading The Wall Street Journal. Jackson tried to introduce his friend, but Odighizuwa hardly spoke.
“He was just weird,” Lawson said. “It didn’t feel right when he shook my hand.”
Authorities declined to say if Odighizuwa had made a statement. He is scheduled to be arraigned today in Buchanan County General District Court.
It was not clear Wednesday how he came to enroll at the Appalachian School of Law, which was created in 1997.
Odighizuwa has been a naturalized citizen since 1989, Stater said.
Of the shooting, Stater said, “This incident was absolutely not connected to terrorism in any way, shape or form.”
Yet the events of Sept. 11 were on the minds of many in Grundy, where no one could recall a slaying of Wednesday’s magnitude.
“The World Trade Centers are a long way away,” Briggs said. “Grundy is right here.”
Shirley Trent Stanley, who had lived next door to Odighizuwa and his family until the couple separated and moved last fall, struggled to make sense of the shootings.
“I’d like to be on the map, for Grundy,” she said. “But not for this.”
Stanley said Odighizuwa’s wife, Abieyuma - whom Stanley called “Abby” - and the four boys had many friends. But Peter Odighizuwa was a peculiar neighbor who complained frequently that he was harassed wherever he went, Stanley said.
“He stayed in the house,” said Max Stanley, Shirley Stanley’s son. “You didn’t see him outside.”
Odighizuwa told the Stanleys he had come to the United States 20 years ago, and had worked in Ohio as a substitute teacher, cab driver and pizza delivery driver. He said he had a mathematics degree and had worked as an engineer. The family moved to Grundy in the summer of 2000.
Abieyuma Odighizuwa supported the family by working as an aide at Buchanan General Hospital. She was studying to be a nurse, Shirley Stanley said.
Shirley Stanley’s niece Jennifer Brewer, a retired psychiatric examiner, thought Peter Odighizuwa had been frustrated for a long time. She recalled a conversation with him before the Odighizuwas separated.
According to Brewer, Odighizuwa said: “You people in America are so wealthy. You have so much. You have the Statue of Liberty standing there saying, ‘Bring me your tired and your hungry and poor.’ I am a poor man but no one will help me. No one will help me feed my children.”